Posts Tagged ‘Pecos Monastery’
Pondering at Pecos:
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the place of “darkness” and “un-knowing” that, I think, is a place that God leads us into… especially during those seasons where we experience intense grief, pain, suffering, and other inexplicable life events.
It seems the habit of humanity is to try and find reason and understanding during these life occurrences that will help us to reconcile the horrors of pain (whatever that may be) and suffering (of any kind) with what we believe is a “good and loving” God. It is in the equation of this reckoning I believe we find some semblance or possibility of an answer, but let me qualify my response before I begin.
These things I am speaking are far above my ability to comprehend and I know all the details are still shrouded in the mystery and shadows of God’s movements, but I have been overcome with a divine peace as some of these ideas have clarified in my thoughts and reflections. I share my opinion here with humble hope that it may be helpful for others.
No matter how much we know or think we know about God, he is still beyond our ability to fully grasp or understand. Recalling instruction from the Old Testament Scriptures, it was God who commanded that man should make no graven image of him… and, while we may not hammer out sheets of bronze and gold sculptures of him, we do no less when we construct mental images, personifications, and other attributes of our own persuasion that detail who or what we believe God is or should be. Yes, it is true that God attributes certain personifications to himself as he reveals his nature to mankind, but I do not think that our personifications are limited to those shared from God about himself in the Scriptures. We have a shared tendency of adding attributes to his nature that make God into someone or something that is more easily understood and likable. While this may not be “idolatry” in the classical sense, it is very much idolatry in the spiritual sense. We’ve simply exchanged the “graven image” with our personal objectification—we’ve created a god of our own making.
Let me be clear, I do not believe this idol-making is from a sinister heart. I think we are sincere with our desire to seek deeper understanding and knowledge of God—and I believe this is the very reason God invites us deeper, to embark upon a journey into shadows, mystery, and uncertainty.
God alone knows the purity of our heart and he wants to purge us of every wrong and/or impure thought we have of him; Scripture teaches this is true. Therefore, it can, and often may be, during times of extreme grief, pain, and suffering that God drives us into the wilderness of our own soul, so we may be stripped of our false notions of him and find our true identity and absolute reliance upon him. We can remember from Scripture that it was God who drove the young Hebrew nation into the wilderness and it was also God, the Holy Spirit, who drove Jesus into the wilderness following his baptism. Both of these examples served a similar purpose, both were identity defining seasons, both were instances teaching the true nature of God, and both provided opportunity to `practice communion and reliance upon God.
Our wilderness experiences can be terrifying for us and they can also be our undoing. These journeys into the unknown and grievously painful places are the nexus where all that we know about God is tested and pushed to its limit. We enter into our “wilderness” with feet firmly planted on the solid foundation of all we know of Jesus, and we have our wilderness “survival gear” with us too… our Bible compass, canteen of holy water, and theology walking sticks firmly gripped in both hands—confident that we are prepared to battle any devils that would distract and disturb our knowledge of God.
Then, it happens.
(The following is a fictitious and allegorical scenario) The blue skies of our wilderness begin to cloud over when a prayer is not answered in agreement with what we had asked or the prayer was answered, but the outcome is not at all what we expected. Our wilderness trail becomes less smooth and what was flat terrain begins to incline, but we press on. The ground is still firm beneath us we still have all our supplies and theological walking sticks firmly in hand.
Pushing further into our wilderness slightly discouraged, but stoic in our faith nonetheless, we are met with another stunning blow when we witness tragedy strike close to home—perhaps a gruesomely ravenous terminal illness strikes the child of a close friend or we get news that a drunk driver has taken the life our pastor’s pregnant wife—and we wonder where, O where, is God in this moment. How could something so horrific have been allowed by God?
Dizzied and shaken, the skies of our journey grow darker and the direction we travel seems less sure as we begin to question our “compass,” but…the ground is still firm beneath our feet, we still have our supplies, and our theological walking sticks are still firmly in hand.
We are weak now, perhaps feeling as though we cannot take another blow. We tell ourselves that God “will never put anything on us that we cannot take,” and we press on thanking God for protection and somehow glorifying himself through all this suffering.
Then, it happens.
We experience a “Job-like”(Job from the Old Testament Book) atomic bomb getting dropped on our world. All is lost… word comes to us that a canyon fire destroys our home; all material possessions lost. We get word our wayward daughter who has runaway is found OD’d on heroin. An investigation into the drunk driving accident that had taken our pastor’s pregnant wife reveals it was our son who was that driver! If all this unbelievable pain is not enough, tests for our spouse’s migraines reveal inoperable and terminal brain cancer.
Our dark night wilderness is now pitch black, the earth that was once firm beneath our feet is no more, our compass and holy water are gone when they became too burdensome to carry due to the incline and difficulty of our trail. Now, in the black with no firm footing beneath us, we feel our hands being ripped from the firm grip we had on our theological walking sticks! We float in uncertainty, screaming and flailing trying to find an anchor, searching for light, begging at the top of our lungs for answers to all this madness. Terrified in the dark and the quiet, I no longer know what I believe about this god I had thought I knew.
It is here, in this moment, where we have been stripped of our false notions about God, that we are given choice. We can choose to turn and run from this great un-knowing dark or we can stay; we can stop flailing and trust the dark un-knowing. It is here, in this uncertainty where what we don’t know of God is made sure to us. The dark is God…the un-knowing is God. It is in this place where we are surrounded by God, embraced by God, and we know complete loving union with God…if we relax, and if we will trust, and if we will believe that He is good and wants our good. He desires for us to know him in the full…no false notions, no impure additives, and no contrived personal ideas and definitions of good. He desires for us to know him alone…and to love him alone, not our ideas of him.
I don’t think this is the normal path for every spiritual journey. I’ve obviously exaggerated the allegory to stress a point, but I’ve known people in my life who have experienced some of what I’ve shared and I’ve even experienced some measure of these illustrations in my own life. It is our nature to want to make logical sense of things we experience, but that may not be possible in our spiritual journeys. God transcends our logic and is beyond our ability to fully comprehend on this side of eternity. The Bible teaches that God made us for the express reason to share communion with himself, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Restoring our fallen nature to the place of eternal union and communion with him can be a complicated and sometimes painfully difficult process, but God will not be deterred in his efforts to bring us to the place of our destiny…no matter the cost. He loves us and wants us to know him, more than we could ever imagine.
Pondering at Pecos:
I read one time that “the soul is a wild animal.” That thought has given me much to think about over the years that I’ve explored that metaphor.
I think the idea of a “wild animal” can conjure different images from the “savage” to the “skittish” and perhaps every point in between—and I think the soul can be seen equally as diminutive, docile, destructive and/or even demonic depending on it’s condition and provocation. One not look too far in the annals of human history to find supporting evidence for these claims.
Many people, maybe even most people, seek solace and identity for their soul. I believe this is one of the primary quests for this life. You will often hear the words; “What is the meaning of life” and “I’m figuring out what I want to be when I grow up…” I think these words are probably more euphemisms for “soul solace” and identity affirmation than they are legitimate quests. The search for acceptance and affirmation prove this true, in my opinion. When people fail to find their affirmation and identity, most will resort to some means of self-medication or they will manufacture an identity for themselves…or they will choose to self-destruct. Of course, these are broad generalizations, but I believe them to hold a lot of truth. The complexities of the soul and the psyche are the playground of God and most mortals merely stumble and fumble their way through this mysterious land. And, this is the challenge. How do we help to heal our brother and how do we help to heal ourselves?
The past few days I’ve been in classes discussing addiction and bi-polar disorders, depression, and anxiety issues. I’m certainly not clinically qualified to speak professionally about these diagnosis, but I do have ideas and an opinion.
I have done quite a bit of reading and study from a spiritual perspective that leads me back to the same point of origin over and over again. I believe the great amount of soul disorder arises from the brokenness of humanity which stems from the break of man’s fellowship with God. Also known as “original sin,” this brokenness is responsible for every malady known to mankind. Since this “break” in fellowship with God, man has been searching for some form of reconciliation for his soul or escape from it. Perhaps this is an oversimplification, but I’ve already stated this is a mysterious subject and I admit I am over my head to even think about it, much less share an opinion.
I am of the mind that programs and medical intervention can only provide a certain amount of healing and restoration for the troubled soul. I don’t mean to mitigate programs or medical treatment at all with my opinions, so I hope that isn’t inferred in the sharing of my thoughts. I simply think that these options can only take a soul so far in recovering an identity.
I mentioned earlier that the soul might be seen as a wild animal and I think this is true, but I think more accurately the “wild animal” might be more like a white-tail deer. I used to live in an area where these beautiful and docile animals were plentiful. Observing them undisturbed in their environment they were calm and graceful creatures, but the snap of a twig or the scent of a human could send them in flight bounding through thistle and brush for fear of their life. Often, during hunting season, the pattern of disturbance for these timid creatures would escalate to the point that some deer might run themselves to death by resorting to uncommon behavior resulting in their demise.
A weak metaphor perhaps, but I believe the soul can be observed in similar detail. Through the fall of man and our invariable brokenness, we realize something is wrong… the scent of something unnatural surrounds us and we live under the umbrella of stigma of many shapes, size, and color. We don’t know what to do, so we disguise who we are creating false identity upon false identity with hopes we will find one size to fit every and all expectations that others have for us. Ultimately, we fail to find security in these false identities and we tire of the endless wardrobe changes that our life demands and we resort to self-medication or fleeing for our lives…
While this scenario may not be true for everyone, I think there is an alternative for those who have experienced this sense of tiring lostness. I think we can embrace our brokenness and turn to God. He is the healer and restorer for our souls and when we embrace this reality for ourselves, we can begin to be ministers of reconciliation for our brothers and sisters who have yet to find this comforting grace.
Allowing the troubled and timid soul the safe space needed to calm its racing heart, and to listen with empathy and compassion as that soul shares its story and fears provides a place that is sacred, where the divine mystery of God mixes with the brokenness of man’s soul and psyche to create healing and wholeness. This is deep healing—eternal restoration—that medication, therapy, and programs alone cannot touch. Yes, these interventions and man made elixirs are necessary and needful, but God…only God can tame a soul.
I’ve got a little break that I can pop in to provide a brief update on what’s been happening as of late. For those of you who do not know, I’ve been on retreat at the Pecos Benedictine Monastery this past week for a follow-up session in the School for Spiritual Direction which I attended last year.
So far, the session has exceeded my expectations (and I was sure it was going to be grand, so this is saying a lot!). I arrived a day early and was able to get very rested as I adjusted to “monastery time” moving into the rhythms of the Daily Office and the contemplative atmosphere of this oasis in the high desert. My cohorts began to arrive, trickling in throughout the day and night until we convened for our reunion meeting Sunday evening. Oh, what a joy it has been to catch up with these dear friends and hear their individual stories from the past year!
Our classes convened this week and have been wonderfully informative, evocative, and inspiring. The line-up of lecturers and subject material for the remainder of this week and next continues to promise spiritual and intellectual excitement; I am looking forward to each session with gleeful anticipation.
While the school itself is wonderful enough in its own right, I cannot help but say how life-giving the welcoming charism of this monastery is to me. The space to navigate the grace of the Holy Spirit abounds… the noises and rushing of the world outside these walls have been buffered from my soul and I can breathe deeply…my soul stretches and spiritual tension oozes from my pores. I am so grateful for my time here and I promise to share more in the coming days.
My Bible reading along with a few other excerpted readings from other sources took an unexpected turn this morning coming together to bring home and highlight the thought of single-minded devotion to God. This isn’t a new thought for me…or others for that matter, but it needs reminded in me from time-to-time. It seems no matter how “devoted” I think I am to God and/or how intimately in communion with Him I believe that I am, I lose focus…I get distracted and my affections begin to wander. I would rather that never happen in me and I would like to believe that I have singleness of heart, but time and time again I am reminded that I am not faultless in my single-minded devotion to my Lord.
I am reading through for a second time a book by Ronald Rohlheiser titled The Restless Heart. I read this book the first time while I was spending a month at the Pecos Monastery in New Mexico. I haven’t blogged or posted a review on this book yet because I’m still processing and “stewing” in it. Rohlheiser writes the following:
We are more busy than bad, more distracted than nonspiritual and more interested in the movie theatre, the sports stadium, and the shopping mall and fantasy life they produce in us than we are in church. Pathological busyness, distraction and restlessness are major blocks today within our spiritual lives. -Ronald Rohlheiser
Even when I am intentional about not busying my life, I still busy my life. I think it is a subconscious reality that while we are on this side of eternity we will forever be battling “busy” distractions; this is one of the unforeseen results of Adam’s choice of self over God. The subsequent consequence for us from this is the struggle to remain focused on relationship with our God as we meander through the daily business of life. Such is the price of original broken fellowship between me and my Creator God. And so I pray: “O Lord, purify my heart to long for the one true thing and be distracted by nothing as I seek to know You with unbroken fellowship, undistracted devotion, and complete purity of heart. Amen.”
Remember that you have only one soul; that you have only one death to die; that you have only one life, which is short and has to be lived by you alone; and that there is only one glory, which is eternal. If you do this, there will be many things about which you care nothing. -Teresa of Avila
According to St. Teresa, if we are to will one thing and seek undistracted devotion, it will mean purposeful separation from “many things.” In other words, in order to say “yes” to God, it will be necessary to say “no” to many things. I think this is made clear in some of the words of Ronald Rohlheiser as he describes our busy distractions coming from temporal, fantasy-fueled, indulgences that feed our restlessness…these are some of the things we must say “no” to in order to find our way back to the path of time spent with the One who is (or should be) the real object of our devotion.
I was reading about Jacob this morning from Genesis and was caught up in mid-sentence with these words out of chapter thirty-two; “…and Jacob was left alone, then someone came and wrestled with him through the night” (Genesis 32:24). It says; …and Jacob was left alone. The context is Jacob’s return to his homeland. He is fearful of his brother Esau and sends ahead of himself all his family and all his estate. Forget whether or not Jacob is acting out of cowardice or self-preservation or any other motive. The point here is that he is alone; all alone. It is in this alone place and vulnerable place, this isolated place…that Someone comes and wrestles with him through the night. This is a moment of crisis and a pivotal point in the life of Jacob. His attitude, his nature, his physical state, and his name are all changed (this might be a metaphor for all of his soul, all of his mind, all of his heart, all of his strength). He is now, Israel, the one who has wrestled with God face-to-face. He is the man who is forever changed because he was alone with God.
“Happy are the people whose strength is in you! whose hearts are set on the pilgrims’ way.” (Psalm 84:4)
I’m glad to be reminded of the cost of single-minded devotion and the reason for it. I am easily distracted. Setting aside intentional moments, literally scheduling alone times with God, are the ways and the means to remain focused on the will of one thing. Yes, it will mean saying “no” to many things. It will also mean a lessening of affections toward many things that used to captivate my attention, but I know this is good… replacing the ravenous restless hungers of my flesh with the soul satisfying presence of God is what my heart truly longs for. I am encouraged by the words of Jeremiah from Lamentations.
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The faithful love of the LORD never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, “The LORD is my inheritance; therefore I will hope in him!” The LORD is good to those who depend on him, to those who search for him. So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the LORD. And it is good for people to submit at an early age to the yoke of his discipline. Let them sit alone in silence beneath the LORD’s demands. (Lamentations 3:21-28)
“…and Jacob was left alone, then someone came and wrestled with him through the night”
“O Lord, purify my heart to long for the one true thing and be distracted by nothing as I seek to know You with unbroken fellowship, undistracted devotion, and complete purity of heart. Amen.”
[09SEPT2011] Jeff’s Journal
The past few days have been tough ones. I don’t particularly like writing about this kind of stuff, but transparency and authenticity are friends of the Jesus Way. So, the last few days have been hard… they have been hard because my mentor, Jesus, is answering my prayers. What prayers; you ask? The prayers that matter the most…
Over the last year I have been in a rather intensive study of what it means to spend solitary time with the Triune God. I have been learning what things are important. I have been learning what it means to be stripped down to minimum in most every facet of my life; personally, materially, socially, religiously, and a few other areas that may not have named categories. Oh, I’ve got a ways to go to be completely stripped down, I’m sure, but I’ve definitely been on the way. I’ve described some of this “schooling” in other posts with some of it mentioned under titles of “waiting.”
I had hoped that our waiting might be coming to an end. I felt that God was “releasing” us from the wait following my time at the Pecos Monastery… and maybe He has… or maybe He hasn’t. I don’t know anymore. For the past couple months we (Laurie and I) have been exploring potential ministry opportunities; by this I mean full time positions. Up until recently, we had up to four different possibilities that we were either considering or waiting to see if they might consider us. Slowly, one by one, each of them have fallen off the radar. Now, during this time we have been faithfully praying together that God would only direct us to the place He intended and that we would not be distracted by anything that wasn’t of His orchestration. We have prayed diligently that we only want God’s will completely operating in our lives, no matter the cost. We understand and pray that God sees the intent of our heart and no matter what our flesh cries out, we pray “nevertheless, Your will, O God, be done in our family.” This is a very noble but risky and scary prayer, if it is heartfelt. It can be stratospherically costly too, but there is more…
In, or during, my time of waiting and my “stripping of self” I have come to realize or deeply believe that there is nothing more important than learning who Jesus is in a deeply intimate way. Along the way, I have realized the greatest hindrance to this is… well… me, and life in general. I have had some very somber and quiet moments spent in communion with God during the past year. It has been during these times that I have cried out in my purest words; “I only want You! I only want to be who You want me to be! I don’t care about anything else but You! Lord Jesus help me to become like You and do the things You want to do. Lord, whatever it takes, make me the child you destined before I was created.”
Most recently I have had this prayer ever on my lips. A couple weeks ago I read a chapter on Kenosis (emptying of self) from the book Poustinia by Catherine Doherty. The entire chapter was incredible, but a certain illustration stuck with me and I formed a prayer from it. She writes the following:
Emptiness is one aspect of kenosis. It involves the constant struggle with one’s imagination, one’s dreams, plans, desires, needs. A Russian staretz said that one should be like a rag doll which can be picked up by the hand, foot, or head, now thrown in the bushes, now hugged, now thrown in the toy box.
There is so much more she writes about this and it may difficult to comprehend where I’m coming from having only quoted a small piece from this chapter. She goes on to write; however, about this kenotic work in the spiritual pilgrim taking them to a place of holy indifference, free to be used or not to be used by God in whatever way He decides. I have been praying this as my prayer. The revelation God gave to me that literally changed my life was to be crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20). It is where the name of my website originated. This kenotic prayer has been with me in the teaching of Philippians 2:5-7, the great passage describing the kenosis (emptying) of Christ. The idea is not a new one to me, but for some reason the Spirit has renewed the fervor of my prayers for this work in my life. And, this is why the past week has been painfully difficult for me. As the hope for new work, as the visions for fruitful ministry, and as the dreams for a new chapter of life shared alongside my wife and family have crowded in my heart…the space for God and what He wants has been pushed to the corners. It can be and often is that easy and happens so innocuously. It is all couched in honorable and godly intentions, but it isn’t a holy indifference…and it isn’t self-emptying. If it were holy indifference, open only to the use or non-use of God, I wouldn’t have been so disappointed with the results of the past couple weeks.
I sincerely believe God is answering our prayers, by removing ministry options from our reach and our path. These “yes” answers to our prayers (yes, meaning God has done precisely as we have pleaded for Him to do) haven’t been met with true rejoicing from me. My words have said, “Thank You, God,” but my heart has been rather indignant and pouty…and quite honestly even bitter. I didn’t want to share the entries from my journal, but I was led to a quote from an ancient teacher, Mechthild of Magdeburg, today that convicted me of my lack of transparency. Mechthild writes the following:
“What hinders spiritual people most of all from complete perfection is that they pay so little attention to small sins… I tell you the truth: when I hold back a smile which would harm no one, or have a sourness in my heart which I tell to no one, or feel some impatience with my own pain, then my soul becomes so dark and my heart so cold that I must weep greatly and lament pitiably and yearn greatly and humbly confess all my lack of virtue.” -Mechthild of Magdeburg
So, now I’ll share a bit from my journal entries (Sept. 8-9, 2011)—
One begins to wonder how much “self” can a “self” hold. I suppose it is one of the darkest mysteries and curses of Adam’s folly and the fall of man.
“Take up your cross daily” Jesus said. It is no wonder… the “self” is infinitely regenerative without the cross… and even with the blessing of the cross it is only the surrender to “die” daily that keeps us from being overrun by the “self.” It is wanton in its insatiable lust for more of me.
Here I sit, not even five hours into my day and I have already done battle at least a half-dozen times (that I’m aware of) with my “self.” I have battled self-pity, pride, a selfish jealousy for my personal time, gloated over the failure of another, battled impatience, sloth, and criticized the success of another. I make myself sick, and these are only the things I am consciously aware of…and I still have twelve more hours left in the day. “Take up your cross daily,” He said.
I pray fairly regularly about becoming “more like Jesus.” I’m pretty sure I don’t have an accurate idea of what that even means most of the time. More journal writing follows:
I read about Him in the Bible and how He emptied Himself (Phil 2:5-7), and I read how my attitude should be the same as Christ’s. I pray for this attitude and I pray that God would help to train me in the ways of Jesus and when He does, I cry and complain with every drop of “self” that God squeezes from me…reluctant to let go of “self.”
I cry out to God for relief; I think physical pain would be an easier path and can understand why the ascetics chose the path they did to pursue holiness and self-emptying. I think it would be the easier road than this one that seems to tortuously strip the “flesh” off my soul…layer by layer. What an incredible paradox this relationship with self is. I hate to see the grotesque reminder of how far I am from becoming like Christ, but I still love my “self” so much that when pressed, I hate to let it go. …Thank You, Jesus, for the cross, but I never expected that I’d have to wear it for so long.
Even as I read again and write these words for you, I see so much “self love” that it makes my stomach turn. My words are steeped in self-righteous self-pity. Here I pray for God to help me grow into a place of holy indifference and as He begins the work, I sulk and complain as if my life were difficult when it is actually incredibly blessed. I am being tutored personally by the God of all creation. The Spirit of the Most High God has taken residence in my soul and begun the work of transforming my heart! Yet, I complain and lament over the process. Recognizing this helps me to understand the work is far from complete. I am also given a close-up view of the wretch I am, which might help me to be less judgmental of others whom I would like to think that I am better than… but not so much.
I have much to be thankful for. I am thankful that I have practiced spending time alone with God so He can show me these things. No, I don’t like to see the dark places that still inhabit my soul, but I am glad that Jesus believes I am strong enough to deal with them, see them for what they are, and confront them with the strength HE provides for destroying (crucifying) them.
Paul says, “While we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Cor. 4:11). Thus, according to his view, the passion and resurrection of Christ are going on all the time. They are always present and not limited to an historical moment. It was rather an historical moment which introduced the eternal values of the cross and resurrection into the whole of time. We participate in Christ’s divine life through baptism and the other sacraments. As a consequence, we must learn how to express the risen life of Jesus rather than our false selves in our conduct and relationships. To attain this union involves the transformation of our inmost being and all our faculties into the mind of Christ. This is the very fullness of salvation. The chief expression of the mind of Christ is found in the classical text of Philippians… “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…emptied…humbled…obedient…” (Philippians 2:5, 7-8). The Heart of the World -Thomas Keating
I know there is nothing more important than this work of spiritual formation and becoming like Christ. There is nothing more important than to sit at His feet and absorb instruction about the Way, His Way. I know there are people who would disagree with this, but He said “apart from me, you can do nothing.” I think becoming grafted into Christ and growing up into Christ requires more than an intellectual decision. Being with Him reveals the work that is necessary to bearing fruit for Him and His Kingdom. Until we are able to peer into the darkness of our soul and introduce the Light of Christ, we are unable to do real work in His Kingdom. And, so… this is my confession. My desire and prayer is still one thing: to become like Jesus no matter the cost to me… I’m diving back in for more.
Send your Light to guide us, O God, may we follow wherever it leads.
The human mind and heart are a mystery; but God will loose an arrow at them, and suddenly they will be wounded (Psalm 64:6-7). You are the LORD, high over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods (Psalm 97:9). I have said to the LORD, “You are my GOD; listen, O LORD, to my supplication” (Psalm 140:6).
We ask you, O LORD, in your compassion to increase your faith in us, because you will not deny the aid of your loving-kindness to those on whom you bestow a steadfast belief in you; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Monastic Notes (Pt.25—July 17th 2011)
Find a complete file (pdf) of the Monastic Notes here
(Pecos: Day 28—July 17th 2011)
And so… my month in the School for Spiritual Direction is officially ended. I leave for the airport shortly following the mid-morning meal. Although I can say unequivocally this has been one of the memorable points in my life, I also know that I will be unraveling this experience for quite some time. I’m glad for notes I’ve taken and the discipline of journaling that have recorded many of the things I have learned, seen, and heard. It will be good to read and reflect on my memories once I’ve returned home.
God’s Word Speaking to Me as I Prepare to Depart for Home:
From Him and through Him and to Him are all things… Therefore, by the mercies of God, present your bodies as a living sacrifice holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. To Him be the glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:36-12:2)
This is an incredibly high calling. It would seem the “bar” is set too high to reach or if we accept the challenge that there is the greater possibility that our lives will be filled with frustration because the measure of godliness is too high for human beings to attain. We push back against these thoughts: the ability of men to discern the will of God, the ability of men to be able to definitively define what is good and perfect, the ability of men to have transformed minds so they may be acceptable to God. It seems near impossible at a glance. But…God gives us hope we can believe in.
“I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33)
“I will put a desire in their hearts to worship me, and they will never leave me” (Jeremiah 32:40)
“I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit within you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations” (Ezekiel 36:26-27)
I am encouraged. I have been blessed to have my heart replaced and my mind transformed. I am more than able to center and focus my attentions and affections solely upon the God who has saved me, Jesus Christ, the One who lives and reigns supreme through the guiding empowerment of the Holy Spirit who resides within my heart.
A Prayer of Psalms—
O God, you are my God; eagerly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you, as in a barren and dry land where there is no water. So I will bless you as long as I live and lift up my hands in your Name. For you have been my helper, and under the shadow of your wings I will rejoice. My soul clings to you; your right hand holds me fast (Psalm 63:1, 4, 7-8).
Monastic Notes (Pt.24—July 16th 2011)
(Pecos: Day 27—July 16th 2011)
Today begins the last day at the monastery; tomorrow I will leave. I don’t really know what I’m feeling at the moment…somewhat emotionless although I miss my family terribly. I’m ready to go home, but I have mixed emotions about leaving this community. There are aspects of the monastery that I’ve come to love and cherish and I know it will be difficult to find them elsewhere. I’m also nervous about the “next steps” in my life. I’ve had some semblance of knowledge about things that are looming on the horizon for most of the time in my life…I can’t say that I have this same sense of knowledge at this juncture. I think this is faith, to proceed with trust and confidence that God is leading. I do have a short list of things I feel God has instructed me to pursue upon my return. I feel as though I have a new understanding of the Apostle Paul’s statement about how “we see through the mirror dimly” (1 Corinthians 13:12). I don’t have a complete blueprint for tomorrow’s journey, but I have daily direction from my God who will take me there.
I believe and trust that the Lord has given me what I need to work with. I can trust all that He is; God has been faithful and good to me. I’m sure that taking the steps He is giving me will lead exactly where we are supposed to be. I feel ready and I can only assume in confidence that the places and players on the other side are ready too.
O LORD, come to my assistance; O LORD, make haste to help me.
Hear my prayer, O GOD; do not hide yourself from my petition. Listen to me and answer me; I have no peace because of my cares…I will call upon the LORD< and the LORD will deliver me. He will bring me safely back from the battle waged against me… Cast your burden upon the LORD, and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous stumble. (Psalm 55:1-2, 17, 19, 24).
Commencement and commissioning mass is now complete, and I feel as though I have succeeded in completing the primary list of things I hoped to accomplish during my stay at the monastery. I look forward to the coming year with curiosity and holy anticipation, truly expectant of the great things God will do in our lives and ministry. Our follow up session at the monastery will take place in August of next year. We have not been given a formal “between session” practicum or assignment. In light of this, I have designed and prescribed my own continuing development plan and have given an outline to the SSD administrators. This will ensure my own accountability and help me to mature as a spiritual director.
Monastic Notes (Pt.23—July 15th 2011)
(Pecos: Day 26—July 15th 2011)
Our lectures are complete. It is hard to believe that four weeks have passed so quickly, but it also seems that I have gained so much more than a month of teaching and training. I am overflowing and cannot wait for God to “pour me out. We are scheduled for a special “Healing of the Family Tree” Mass this afternoon and I look forward to that time.
I sat with a friend during lunch today who shared with me that she “saw me in a vision with the oil of anointing running down my head and beard…” She gave me Psalm 133 to read.
1 Oh how good and pleasant it is, when the brethren live together in unity. 2 It is like fine oil upon the head that runs down upon the beard, 3 upon the beard of Aaron, and runs down upon the collar of his robe. 4 It is like the dew of Hermon that falls upon the Hills of Zion. 5 For there the LORD has ordained the blessing: life evermore. (Psalm 133:1-5)
Amen. And, Thank you, Sylvia.
Personal Reflections and Recollections:
“O LORD, come to my assistance; O LORD, make haste to help me.”
This is my prayer and this is truly the cry of my heart. It seems one thing I have learned through the years; the closer I have grown in relationship with my God, the more I am reliant upon His sustaining grace and guidance. I want only to be His servant and to respond obediently and submissively to the draw I have sensed to the deeper life spent in unbroken fellowship with His Presence. I don’t know what the future brings and acknowledge my feelings of helplessness with regard to how it may unfold. I honestly believe the past half-dozen years of Laurie and my life have been spent preparing for the next chapter of our lives, but I’m not sure where or what that chapter is. I look at our history and experience and see two people who are qualified and gifted to serve in a number of ministry positions. It is really hard to predict or project where we will land. Oh, I know if given a blank canvas that we could present a wonderful plan we would delight in pouring ourselves into, but that is not the path we have decided to pursue. We have agreed to seek where God would delight most in having us serve Him and His people. This is not an easy pursuit; our prayer is that He would protect us from making choices that would cause us to deviate from His best assignment…whatever and wherever that may be. For the moment, I know that God has given me a few “next steps” and this is the step of faith He tests me with now. Therefore, my faithfulness in pursuing these next steps and my completing them to the best of my ability will be my primary concern. Moment by moment…and daily obedience spent in His Presence is the prayer of my faith becoming manifest in my life. I know that living this out today is the key to tasks of tomorrow.
Thank You, O LORD, for your faithfulness to hear your servant and to speak to your servant. I am determined, by Your empowering grace, to praise You and worship You with my whole life. Amen.
A Prayer of Psalms—
I waited patiently upon the LORD; He stooped to me and heard my cry. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; many shall see, and stand in awe, and put their trust in the LORD. Great things are they that you have done, O LORD my God! How great your wonders and plans for us! There is none who can be compared with you. Oh that I could make them known and tell them! But they are more than I can count. In sacrifice and offering you take no pleasure (you have given me ears to hear you). In the roll of the book it is written concerning me; “I love to do your will, O my God: your law is deep in my heart.” Be please, O LORD, to deliver me; O LORD, make hast to help me (Psalm 40:1, 3, 5-7, 9, 14).
“O LORD, come to my assistance; O LORD, make haste to help me.”
Monastic Notes (Pt.22—July 14th 2011)
(Pecos: Day 25—July 14th 2011)
Today our lectures (actually lecture) came from Fr. Sam Davies. I mentioned him the other day in my journal when I had a couple of my belongings “blessed” by him. The topic of his talk today was “Healing the Family Tree,” but it was not what I expected from the title. I don’t know if it was just me or if everyone was latching on to the central theme of “healing” coming from forgiveness, but this is what I heard in a major way. The notes I took were not verbatim, but more of an interpretation of what I heard coming from Father Sam. The heading and notes in my journal are outlined as follows:
- Jesus is the source of all healing and all healing begins with forgiveness
- God’s Kingdom is a matter of forgiveness (Matthew 18:21-35)
- The prayer that Jesus taught his disciples (Our Father) includes indefinite and infinite forgiveness
- Jesus insists on forgiveness. He is fully experienced in His forgiveness extended to us by His death on the cross
- The verdict we pass to others, we pass to ourselves. If we pass unforgiveness, we will be not be forgiven. Likewise, if we pass forgiveness, we will be forgiven.
- Unforgiveness unleashes torture on us and others (fear, loathing, anxiety, depression, self-hatred, etc.)
- Forgiveness is divine, because it is first a work of God toward us and second, it is a work of God through us
- Forgiveness comes through the ministry of the Holy Spirit
- Forgiveness cannot be defined (or redefined) to mean a lack of hostility. Forgiveness embraces, reconciles, restores, and re-establishes love. It is truly loving mercy and cannot be redefined as anything less
- True mercy has no strings attached…mercy with strings is not mercy at all
- Confession is a non-negotiable if you want to get rid of the “soul trash” we are so want to accumulate
Father Sam’s lecture included much more than the above mentioned points, but these wonderful points on healing through forgiveness were the binding elements of the entire talk. A few more quotes from Fr. Sam that I found really insightful follow:
“If you are not aware God has done something, He may not have…”
“Lord, help me to love immensely and intensely.”
“What is impossible can become HIM-possible…”
Father Samuel Davies
Personal Reflections and Recollections:
This passage starts off with all kinds of wrong. It begins by telling us that Saul had expelled the mediums and wizards in the land, but as soon as he asks his servants to help him find one (medium or wizard) they know the exact address and location of a witch??? Seriously? Can we talk about fidelity and trust for a moment? Here are some people who are the closest to Saul in all the kingdom. They know he was trying to rid the kingdom of sorcery and those practicing it, but they know there are still mediums and wizards who remain and seemingly under protection.
The actions of Saul reveal his “fickleness” and double-mindedness when it comes to his relationship with God. Better said, I believe it reveals the true heart of Saul.
We can only assume, from Scripture, but it seems that the character of God is to welcome true repentance and sincerity of heart (an example is the repentance of Manasseh, the most evil king of all Israel 2 Chronicles 33:1-20). So, if Saul’s heart had been pure with full desire to trust God, perhaps God may have relented…we don’t know the answer to this, but we do know as soon as “impatient” Saul doesn’t “hear” from God—he forges ahead taking matters into his own hands and enacting his plan pursuing “what seems right” to him. This attitude was the reason the kingdom was stripped from him in the first place and it seems that Saul never learns the lesson nor turns (repents) to another way. Sad. How many of us fall into these same destructive habits?
“…So Saul disguised himself.” I think so much could be said about this, I don’t even know where to begin. We (humanity) do this, disguising ourselves, in our sin and we do it in our “partially committed” relationships with God. Only in completely “naked and unashamed” relationships are we free to not disguise ourselves… we are, after all, “naked” then and need no covering or “disguise.”
So Saul exalts himself above God by granting impunity to the witch of Endor—”no harm will come to you for participating in sorcery.” How can he say this? Only if he assumes authority over the person and precepts of God can he make such a promise to the sorceress.
The evidence of how far Saul misses the mark in his understanding and fear of God is shown in his actions and confession to Samuel. He says; “God isn’t talking to me anymore…” Samuel responds; “So, why do you ask me?” Samuel then goes on to explain to Saul that his own stubborn disobedience (which he continues to reveal) is the reason for God’s silence. The greatest tragedy of this entire narrative is that Saul never ever truly repents or has a real change of heart.
A concluding thought about Saul, Repentance, and “us”…
Repentance is not an intellectual decision. Repentance begins or is birthed in the heart. Repentance moves from the heart and wills the intellect to action. The heart moves the will to action and the result are fruits of repentance being exhibited in the life of the repentant soul.
Repentance that comes from the intellect will not turn the heart; therefore, intellectual repentance is not repentance at all. This type of “false” repentance results in hardness of heart and deluded conscience. It reveals the lack of surrender of self. This is most obvious in times of crisis when the self reverts to “survival mode” exhibiting the most primal attitudes in exhibitions of “survival of the fittest” and “fight or flight” behaviors.
Repentance is the ultimate act of surrender to the Person and will of God.
Monastic Notes (Pt.21—July 13th 2011)
(Pecos: Day 24—July 13th 2011)
A second great day of lectures with Fr. Meninger today with continued conversation in the Stages of Spiritual Development. We picked up where we left off yesterday after talking about the progressions and levels of a relationship. Today we discussed the “Levels of Love” described by St. William of Thiery.
- Attraction—given to men by God; God gives men desire for Himself; it is a grace and it is gifted.
- Clinging—a deeper level of love; we “cling” to God through distractions, disturbances, etc. (I especially loved the example used for this level by Fr. Meninger when he was questioned about disturbances and distractions drawing us closer to God. He described the way a child, who is in the arms of a parent, tightens their grip when someone tries to pull them from the arms of the parent).
- Enjoyment—”faith with feeling,” aka ecstasies; a type of joy experienced even in pleasure or pain.
- Union of Wills—the highest level/experience of love; when we cannot love any more, but to only experience the will or do the will of the other (in this case, God).
One concept that is unique to the Christian experience is the way God communicates with and reveals Himself to humanity; He communicates Himself primarily through the virtues of faith, hope, and love. The experience of relationship with God is made available through these virtues and proves the ultimate goal, union with God, both possible and worth pursuing.
Personal Reflections and Recollections:
I’ve been reading a book by Ronald Rolheiser, The Restless Heart, one I’ve really enjoyed. There are great thoughts in it that help to shed light on the restlessness of our souls and why it exists. Additionally, I have gleaned inspiration from the book to develop a retreat program that is centered around this “restless and lonely” heart dilemma. A quote from the book triggered the following thoughts:
“The pain of stopping our pursuit of activity and entering alone and in silence to ourselves is the very experience of purgatory.” -Ronald Rolheiser; The Restless Heart
It is in this silence that God begins to reveal the false self(s) we have created for ourselves or the false self(s) we have been given and attempted to “live into.” It is in this silence that God reveals to us the places which need healing, surrendered, and matured… In all these revelations there is deep and difficult work; there is necessity for discipline and commitment. With this realization there is understanding for the fear that rises up in us when we approach or enter into this holy silence, but there is also infinite and divine hope; for it is God that draws us into this silence and it is God that embraces us in it. It is in this silence that the Master Creator-Healer-Restorer gently and lovingly restores His prized and cherished child—you and me. Trust and surrender to Him moves us ever closer to the ultimate fulfillment every human being desires, the rest and restored fellowship…eternal fellowship, with God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—eternal reconciliation with our Triune Creator.
A Prayer of Psalms—
I call with my whole heart; answer me, O LORD, that I may keep your statutes. Hosanna, LORD, hosanna! LORD, send us now success. For He Himself knows whereof we are made; He remembers that we are but dust. Remember your word to your servant, because you have given me hope. This is my comfort in my trouble, that your promise gives me life. I remember your Name in the night, O LORD, and dwell upon your law. You only are my portion, O LORD, I have promised to keep your words. I have considered my ways and turned my feet toward your decrees. Teach me discernment and knowledge, for I have believed in your commandments. Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word. The law of your mouth is dearer to me than thousands in gold and silver. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be; world without end. Amen. (Psalm 119:45; Psalm 118:25; Psalm 103:14; Psalm 119:49-50, 55, 57, 59, 66, 67, 72).